We run our website the way we wished the whole internet worked: we provide high quality original content with no ads. We are funded solely by your direct support. Please consider supporting this project.

The Cross in the Mirror

For those who are just tuning in, we are in the midst of a series that is fleshing out the theology of The ReKnew Manifesto. So far I’ve argued that the cross is the definitive revelation of God and that it should therefore be the centerpiece of our hermeneutic (interpretation of the Bible) as well as all our thinking about God. I’d like to end our reflections on the centrality of the cross by saying a word about how the cross should affect the way we see ourselves.[1]
We hear a lot about self-esteem these days. I’ve read books that basically argued that almost every psychological and/or social problem we have is due to a lack of self-esteem. On the other side of the fence, however, there is that multitude of Christian spokespeople who argue the opposite: the source of all our problems, they say, is that we have too much self-esteem. We are prideful, in other words.  So while the first group is always telling us how much better we are than we tend to think, the second group is always telling us how much worse we are than we tend to think.

It seems to me that the cross exposes both perspectives to be completely misguided. The problem isn’t with our low or high self-esteem: the problem is that we self-esteem. We evaluate ourselves on the basis of whatever criteria our social group deems important—e.g. how pretty, smart, rich, talented or famous we are—and we feel good about ourselves if we meet the criteria and feel bad about ourselves if we don’t. But the cross reveals that the very process of esteeming ourselves is as impossible as it is unnecessary.

The self-esteeming process is impossible because the cross reveals that we are sinners whose plight was so bad it required God to become a human and to die on a cross to save us. Left to ourselves, we are too lost and screwed up to ever think we could increase our worth by how well we measure up against some social criteria. At the same time, the self-esteeming process is unnecessary, for the cross reveals that God deemed us worth dying for, even while we were sinners. In fact, by paying an unsurpassable price for us, God ascribes unsurpassable worth to us. And since this worth is unsurpassable, it can’t be improved, regardless of how pretty, smart, rich, talented, or famous we happen to be. At the same time, because this worth is given by God, neither can this worth ever be lessened, regardless of how ugly, dumb, poor, untalented and unknown we happen to be.

Given that the cross reveals all we can know about God and ourselves, our goal should not be to acquire better self-esteem; it should be to acquire God-esteem. Who cares what our little screwed up brains think about ourselves when our Creator, the only one who really knows our true worth, has revealed his opinion on the cross. However high you may esteem yourself, it will fall infinitely below the worth God has already given you for free. Yet, the very process of esteeming yourself, regardless of how high or how low your outcome is, reflects a lack of trust in the cross.

In this light, I’d like to encourage us to drink every day from the well of the infinite worth that God ascribes to us on the cross. When we fully agree with God that we have unconditional and unsurpassable worth, it frees us from the need to try to acquire worth by satisfying some social criteria. So, when you find yourself feeling good, feeling bad, or even just being concerned about how pretty, smart, rich, talented, or famous you are, turn your attention to the cross and ask: what does my heavenly Father think?

To reflect on this a bit further, listen to this sermon.


[1] I’d like to thank my friend Dan Kent for inspiring me to write this post. Dan gave an outstanding presentation for a group at my house the other night in which he applied some material from my Repenting of Religion to the problem of shame and pride in psychology. Dan is currently writing a book on this subject, and I believe many of you are going to want to read it when it’s done!

Related Reading

Trapped in a Constantinian Paradigm

A Response to James Smith’s Review of The Myth of a Christian Nation In my book The Myth of a Christian Nation I repeatedly call on Christians to engage in social activism. Followers of Jesus are called to be revolutionaries, I argue, meaning that we are to revolt against the status quo insofar as the…

What Is The Warfare Worldview?

Greg has written extensively on something he calls the Warfare Worldview. Many today believe that everything that takes place in the world is ultimately part of a divine blueprint and contributes in some way to the glory of God. As opposed to this view, Greg argues that wills other than God’s are responsible for evil…

Jesus: True Myth and True History

Though the Jesus story gives us every reason to believe it is substantially rooted in history, it has a curious, and fascinating, relationship with myth and legend. The story of God coming to earth, being born of a virgin, manifesting a heroic, counter-cultural love toward outcasts, dying for the people who crucified him and then…

Open Theism and the Nature of the Future

In this philosophical essay Alan Rhoda, Tom Belt and I argue that the future cannot be exhaustively described in terms of what will and will not happen, but must also be described in terms of what may and may not happen. The future, in other words, is partly open. The thesis is defended against a…

Finding an Alternative Jesus

The “Newly Discovered” Jesus One of the most common, and most disturbing, refrains heard in the media’s coverage of contemporary radical views of Christ is that New Testament scholars have recently “discovered” new sources of information about Jesus that contradict the Bible’s own view of Jesus. It is claimed that works such as the Gospel…

The Rorschach Test

The choices we make will either increase or decrease our ability to recognize light when we see it.  As we choose goodness, we increase our capacity for goodness. What do you see when you read the Bible or look at God or interact with others? Everything is a Rorschach test to some extent, revealing the light…